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Afghani Jewish Traditions

Jews living in Afghanistan adopted the same tradtions and customs as the local citizens.  Many also followed tradtions their forefathers carried from Mashhad, Iran.

Homes in Afghanistan are traditionally made out of mud, and have a series of rooms located around a private rectangular courtyard where women and children play, cook and socialize. Married sons share the same house as their parents, although they have separate quarters. Some Afghan houses contain a special room where men socialize with each other.

Many of the Jews traded in rugs and used them in their homes for comfort, decoration and warmth.

Known as the dastarkhan or sofrah, the floor spread is an important expression of culture in Afghanistan. Regardless of economic status, creating an adequate dastarkhan is important to any family, especially when having guests. A large cloth will most likely be spread over a traditional rug in the living area or on a formal dining table. Most likely a young member of the family will present an "aftabah wa lagan", a copper basin and elaborate pot filled with water for the household to wash their hands in. He or she will go around the destarkhan to each member, pour water over the hands. Soap is provided, as is a drying cloth. The destarkhan is then dutifully filled with breads, accompaniments, relishes, appetizers, main courses, salads, rice, and fruits. Arrangement of foods is important when having guests; they must have easy access to the specialty foods. Young girls are taught how to spread a good destarkhan and will be busy helping the women.

Afghans sit on cushions on the floor to eat. In winter, they eat at a low table which is covered by a thick, heavy quilt that extends enough to cover the legs of the diners. Under the table is a charcoal brazier, so the quilt helps to keep the heat in to provide warmth for those seated on the floor. In warm weather Afghans may eat outdoors. No matter what the site, communal dining is common, with one platter of rice shared by three or four people. Treating guests well is an important part of the Afghan culture. No matter how poor the family, the best possible food is prepared for guests. Some family members may not eat in order to provide for guests. Entertaining is almost always done in homes.

Afghan cuisine is largely based upon the nation's chief crops: cereals like wheat, maize, barley and rice. Accompanying these staples are dairy products (yogurt and whey), various nuts, and native vegetables, as well as fresh and dried fruits; Afghanistan is well known for its grapes. Afghanistan's culinary specialties reflect its ethnic and geographic diversity and has similarities with neighboring Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and China.

Rice dishes are the "king" of all foods in Afghanistan. The Afghans have certainly taken much time and effort in creating their rice dishes, as they are considered the best part of any meal. Wealthier families will eat one rice dish per day. The Afghan royalty spent much time on rice preparation and invention as evidenced in the sheer number of rice dishes in their cookbooks. Weddings and family gatherings must feature several rice dishes and certainly reputations can be made in the realm of rice preparation. The types of rice prepared are outlined below.



White rice. Extra long grains such as Basmati are required. First parboiled, then drained, and finally baked in an oven with some oil and salt. This method creates fluffy rice with each grain separated, unlike Chinese or Japanese rice. Chalaw is served mainly with qormas (korma; stews or casseroles)


Afghan style eating with plates of Palao dishes lined up.

Cooked the same as chawol, but meat & stock, qorma, herbs, or a combination are blended in before the baking process. This creates elaborate colors, flavors, and aromas for which some rice are named after.

·         Paolo - The national dish, meat and stock added, topped with fried raisins, slivered carrots, and pistachios.

·         Yakhni Palao - meat & stock added. Creates a brown rice

·         Zamarod Palao - Spinach qorma mixed in before the baking process, hence 'zamarod' or emerald.

·         Qorma Palao - Qorm'eh Albokhara wa Dalnakhod mixed in before the baking process

·         Bore Palao - Qorm'eh Lawand added. Creates yellow rice.

·         Bonjan-e-Roomi Palao - Qorm'eh Bonjan-e-Roomi (tomato qorma) added at baking process. Creates red rice.

·         Serkah Palao - Similar to yakhni palao, but with vinegar and other spices.

·         Shebet Palao - Fresh dill, raisins added at baking process.

·         Narenj Palao - A sweet and elaborate rice dish made with saffron, orange peel, pistachios, almonds and chicken.

·         Maash Palao - A sweet and sour palao baked with mung beans, apricots, and Bulgur (a kind of wheat). Exclusively vegetarian.

·         Alou Balou Palao - Sweet rice dish with cherries and chicken.

Qorma is a stew or casserole, usually served with chawol. Most qormas are onion-based. Onions are fried, and then meat is added, as are a variety of fruits, spices, and vegetables depending on the recipe. Finally water is added and left to simmer. The onion caramelizes and creates a richly colored stew.

Qorma Alou-Bokhara WA Dalnakhod - onion based, with sour plums, lentils, and cardamom. Veal or chicken.

Qorma Sabzi - sauteed spinach and other greens. Lamb

Qorma Shalgham - onion based, with turnips, sugar; sweet and sour taste. Lamb.



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